Don Burgess explores 1950's America in new novel

DOWNEY − When Don Burgess’ adult daughter challenged him to write a 50,000-word novel in just one month, he upped the ante and wrote 124,000 words instead.

What came as a result of those 30 days of National Novel Writing Month is Burgess’ latest book, “Lincoln Street: Coming of Age in Fly-Over Country,” which follows the childhood adventures of lead character Billy Howard as he grows up in the heartland of America during the late 50s and early 60s.

“It’s a story of gratefulness that marks the changes that have taken place,” said Burgess, former pastor of the First Baptist Church of Downey. “I attempted to capture the change through a group of friends and a small town.”

Lincoln Street pulls on Burgess’ experience growing up in Kansas when children were “provincial, naïve, ignorant, clueless, and grossly unaware of the ways of the world.”

Through the stories of several fictional characters, Burgess, 69, touches on adolescence, young love, marital reality, racial tension, the space race, and the Cold War.

“It’s about a time when kids truly spent more time outside,” said Burgess. “Nothing in the book really happened, but it’s all true. I wrote it so everyone could experience that time.”

The novel begins with protagonist Billy Howard reflecting on how American culture evolved from the late 50s to the early 80s. Burgess believes technology is the most cataclysmic change of all.

“Its impact on teenagers marks a contrast…There was a lot more engagement [during the 50s] and it was on the surface, a more innocent time. Lucy and Ricky [Ricardo] slept in separate beds on I Love Lucy,” he said. 

“A lot of people in Downey had a common [coming-of-age] experience.”

Burgess, who began his career in broadcast journalism and military service, relocated to Downey from Corona in 1995 after he was selected to pastor the First Baptist Church of Downey. He retired in 2005 and moved to Fort Worth with his wife Lyn three years later.
“I was happy to be there [in Downey] for 10 years,” he said. “Now I’m involved in ministry as a layman and I enjoy that very much.”

Released in February, Lincoln Street has sold several hundred copies thus far, an encouraging sign for Burgess, who believes people need an honest reminder of the virtues of gratitude. 
“The book is ultimately about gratefulness to others and God, and a marker of how things change,” he said. “People who’ve read the book have told me, ‘hey, I knew those people and I lived that.’ I think it’s good that people are reminded of that time.”

“Lincoln Street: Coming of Age in Fly-Over Country” is available now on